Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Tune Of Freedom

I listen to songs on my MP3 player and many others are like me.

It wasn't too long ago when I had to listen to music only on Compact Discs (CD). Even though CD is still very much alive, the way music is being distributed is changing at a very fast pace.

The music industry is largely dominated by a few record labels. They make their money by signing up artists and selling their music via controlled distribution. In the past, music was stored in vinyl records. Then in 1980s, audio cassettes became popular. Now, we see mainly CDs.

Although the 'containers' have changed, the record labels continue to take control over music distribution. They decide on how and when the music should reach the fans.

But that is about to change.

Increasingly, music is being purchased via the Internet. If this goes on full swing, it certainly will spell death for the records labels.

For years, major record labels have been taking the stand that it is illegal to copy songs from CD to portable device. During the past few years, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have tried valiantly to halt the unauthorized distribution or use of digital music. They are against individuals engaged in nonpermissive downloading of copyrighted MP3 files from the Internet. They are also against the makers of MP3 players.

They took makers of 'The Rio', an MP3 player, to court. They argued that the makers, Rio Diamond, engaged in "contributory copyright infringement" as they sell a device whose principal use was to engage in copyright infringement.

Good news. The tiny Rio Diamond Multimedia, fought and won the case. Now no one can doubt if it is legal for Apple and Creative to make their own music players such as the iPod and the Zen. Thanks partly to that decision, iTunes is now the largest music retailer in the world.

Record companies now have less control over the sale of music over the Internet. Gone were the days I have to spend $20 to get a CD just because of 2 songs i like. The artists are also freed from the middle men and they can choose to release their music directly over the Web. They no longer need to rely on record labels in order to get to their fans.

Madonna abandoned the large record label Warner Music Corp after 24 years. She said that "The paradigm in the music business has shifted and as an artist and a business woman, I have to move with that shift." She explained "For the first time in my career, the way that my music can reach my fans is unlimited."

The death of the record labels means that artists and consumers can now deal with each other directly and on their own terms.

Last year, the rock star, Prince, gave away 2.8 million copies of his newest album Planet Earth by including a free CD with the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday. Understandably, that has brought much criticism from UK record stores.

This is a critical turning point. The era of music being distributed in 'containers' might be over soon. We are now moving into a new era of 'music on demand'. Pay for what you need and what you use, directly from your favorite artists.

Goodbye, middlemen!

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